Friday, May 15, 2009

Integrity, Idols, and Animals

“He who changes his words, it is as if he worships idols,” Sanhedrin 92a


A boy who is not Bar Mitzvah is not obligated to keep the mitzvos according to biblical law. We are obligated to educate him, and according to some, he may have a Rabbinic responsibility to fulfill mitzvos himself, but according to the strict law of the Torah, he is not responsible.  And yet, according to the Torah, once a young man truly knows what his words mean, he is obligated to fulfill the word of his commitments. Even before the responsibility to keep the rest of the Torah comes the responsibility to keep ones word.


Tosafos[i] is of the opinion that even a goy has the responsibility to keep his word. Now a gentile is not responsible to keep anything in the Torah beyond the seven Noachide laws and several other restrictions. But his is responsible to keep his word!


The Ramban[ii] tells us that when a community gets together to make a decision as a community, they have the ability to create obligations not only upon every member of that community, but even upon their descendants. He give three examples; the national acceptance of the Torah, of the megilla, and of fast days. We are all under and obligation to keep those commitments that our ancestor committed to en masse. It is interesting to note that even before the Torah was given we were bound to our word. After all, should one not have to keep what he promised, what binds us to the Torah? Even before the Torah was given, we had to keep our word.


“He who changes his words, it is as if he worships idols,” says the Gemara.[iii] R. Menachem Meiri[iv] explains that this refers to one who does not keep his word. Idolatry is the most egregious of sins[v]. After all, man was placed on this world in order to worship G-d, to do good, and accomplish as much as he can. It is only possible for one to do that when he knows what is true and what is false, and what is good and bad. Following a false system, with false values and false gods is understandable a cardinal sin. A fellow promising to make it to his Gandma’s birthday party who instead goes to the movies has indeed commited an offense. But can we compare that to idolatry? It is certainly not the kindest thing to do, not does it display integrity – but is it really even close to the worship of idols?


We must explore the nature of a mitzvah. The Rambam[vi] tells us, “Many things were forbidden by the sages as ‘Rabbinically Stealing’ such as gambling… What is gambling? Playing games with wood, stone, bones, or any such substance, and making a deal that whomever wins the game will take home a certain amount of money. Our Rabbis declared that this is theft. Despite the fact that this money is given completely willfully by its owner, because it was taken in a playful and silly manner, it is theft!” This Rambam is hard to understand on the surface – if one is not taking somebody else’s object, how can he be a thief? What on earth does his playful and silly manner have to do with stealing? He may be one who does not fear God, or a number of other sins, but how can we call him a thief? The Chacham Tzvi[vii], in addressing the prohibition of stealing even from a non-Jew explains that there are two purposes to every Mitzvah. On the one had we do not steal because the Torah must protect the fellow with money, and not allow any charlatan to make off with what is his. But another purpose, explains the Chacham Tzvi, is in order than man will not behave in a despicable way. We therefore cannot steal from anyone, because there is something bad that happens to us when we steal! In fact, the Rambam himself makes such a statement in his Pirush Hamishnayos[viii] when he says “Our sages have taught us that it is prohibited to deceive even the gentile… for this develops in man terrible characteristics.” Mitzvos are here to make sure that we do certain actions, but above all that, they are here to change us. Stealing is both about taking money from another person, and taking money for free in an ignoble manner. If one takes money in a silly or uncouth way it is akin to stealing. For stealing is not just about taking something from someone else, it can be about taking something even should that hurt nobody at all in any [legal] sense!


Now we can understand why it is idolatrous to default on ones word. The Torah is talking to a man. It tells that man to do mitzvos. Those mitzvos have their effect on both the man, and his relationship with Hashem. But there must be a man there to talk to. With no integrity, there is no man to talk to, and there I no one to hear the message of the Torah. There can be no worship of Hashem when there is no man. The travesty of idolatry is that man is acting against the entire purpose of creation. Man is here to worship God – one who denies God, or mis-defines Him is a disaster. But equally grave is the sin of one who mis-defines man. If there is no man, there can be no worship of God. The Torah presupposes the existence of a man before it commands anything – it can do no less. Even the gentile must keep his word, and even the underage boy must follow through. Derech Eretz must come before Torah, for Torah cannot change a man and bring him close to God if he is not a man, and without integrity man is not much more than an animal.

[i] Tosafos to Avoda Zara 5b s.v. ‘Minayin.’ Note the shock of R. Akiva Eger in Gilyon Hashas there.

[ii] Mishpat Hacherem (published after the Pirush Haramban to Gittin in Chiddushei Haramban. I am indebted to R. Efraim Kirshenbaum Shlita for making me aware of this source.

[iii] Sanhedrim 92a

[iv] Beis Habichira ad loc.

[v] Sanhedrin 50a “poshet yado biikar adif - denying the existence of God is most severe.”

[vi] Hil. Gezeila Vaveidah 6:7, and 6:10

[vii] Shaalos Uteshuvos Chacham Tzvi 26

[viii] Keilim 12:7, in the standard editions this is found, but it is brought out far more clearly in the newer, more accurate, translation of R. Y. Kapach.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Monkey See


“And you saw their abominations and their vulgarities – the wood, stone, silver, and gold (idols) that they keep with them.”

D’varim 29:16


The Jews had just seen the idolatrous practice of the nations that they had passed through. The torah calls these idols, “shikutzeihem,” and “gilluleihem.” Abominations. Rashi points out that literally the word “gilluleihem,” means feces. The Jews viewed those disgusting practices the way that they would have viewed human waste. And yet the Torah goes on to warn the Jews that if they are attracted to those forms of worship they dare not engage in them. The Torah in one breath emphasizes that Jews saw those practices as disgusting, and that nevertheless there were many who desired them. The Torah warns those people to stay away.[1] Man is incredibly affected by what he sees, and thus, even seeing something that seems as disgusting as feces, can nevertheless attract the person


One who witnesses a Sotah in her state of disgrace should steer clear of drinking wine. To teach us this, the Torah placed the laws of Nazir next to the laws of the Sotah. The adulterous act that the Sotah perpetrated, is something that comes of a frivolous mentality, and more often than not, it is brought on by drinking alcohol. Thus, one who witnesses the depths to which a Jewish soul can sink when it loses the level-headed approach to life that befits it, should himself commit not to lose sight of what is important in life. Any yet, it would seem surprising that the man who witnessed the downfall of the wicked person would be in danger of repeating that mistake. If anything, I would have thought that the fellow who has never seen a Sotah explode is more likely to be enticed into sin that the one who saw her stomach implode, and her guts on the floor! The Torah teaches us, that one who witnesses evil is affected. He has now seen that the sin is possible. Other people have done it. Once something is in the realm of possibility, it is no longer so foreign, and one is more likely to succumb to his desires.


When the Jews left Egypt, they were at the top of the world. The surrounding civilizations were fully aware that Hashem had stepped in and taken a little nation from the world’s superpower in a show of one miracle after another. There was no question about it. Any suggestion of attacking the Jewish people would have been laughed at. And yet, Amalek went ahead and did it. “They cooled you down in your traveling.”[2] Rashi quotes a Midrash that compares the Jewish nation at that time to a scalding bath. When a man jumps into a scalding tub, he may burn himself horribly, but he also cools that tub off for others. Other nations saw that Amalek was beaten badly, and yet they had no compunction copying Amalek in the coming years. For once it was possible to attack the Jewish people, the tub was no longer so hot. It did not seem like such a difficult thing, for though Amalek got burned, they nevertheless attacked the Jews, and now that was a possibility that could be imitated.


The opposite is true as well. When we see a good person, we can then see that righteousness is within our reach as well. On the day that Sara was remembered by Hashem and conceived Yitzchak, many barren women were remembered by Hashem and conceived too.”[3] The Taz[4] wonders how these women knew that their fertility was related to Sara, and not some other reason. He explains that it was only those who knew of Sara, and heard of her miracle gained the necessary bitachon (faith) to trust in Hashem and thus merit bearing children despite their barren natures! It was only when they saw Sara that they too could relate to that sort of faith.


The great R. Shlomo Ganzfried[5] brings this idea out in another fashion. He wonders why it is that Akeidas Yitzchak is considered by the Torah to be a test of Avraham rather than Yitzchak. “And Hashem tested Avraham.”[6] After all – wasn’t Yitzchak’s giving up of his life a great challenge as well? He quotes the Drashos Haran, who explains that after the very first time in world history that a challenge is overcome, that challenge becomes far easier for everyone else to overcome themselves. Avraham, he explains, had already offered his life up for Hashem when Nimrod attempted to kill him in the fiery furnace of Ur Kasdim. It was thus not as great a challenge for his son Yitzchak to give his life for Hashem. But to give one’s child had never been done. Thus, Avraham was the only one legitimately challenged to the ultimate degree, for he was told to do something that had never ever been done before. It is amazing to note how after world records that have stood for years are broken, they suddenly are broken many times over. The four minute mile, or Roger Maris’ long standing home run record are just two examples. Just after they were broken came a succession of people who broke those same records again, quickly! After one person does something, it is somehow much easier for the rest to follow suit.  (This also offers us a deep insight into what our forefathers have done for us. For a Jew today to sacrifice for Hashem, for Shabbos, for kosher food – all these tests have been successfully passed before – and thus we can and must know that it is within our reach to pass these tests as well. We are privileged to come from such giants.)


On another level, the very fact that we see something wrong is an indication of our spiritual state. The Baal Shem Tov said that one who witnesses a sin, can only have witnessed that if he himself has some flaw in that area. When Noah wanted to know if the flood was over, he sent the raven out to check for him. But the raven did not do the bidding of Noah. Rather, he circled the ark and came right back, for he was concerned that Noah would mate with his raven-wife while he was gone.[7] How ludicrous! Aside for the problem of logistics, for Noah was a man and Mrs. Raven was a raven – why on earth would the righteous Noah, who had survived the flood by virtue of his never engaging in arayos, suddenly compromise his values for a female raven? On Noah’s ark the animals did not mate with one another.[8] For, the world was in a state of turmoil and even the animal kingdom somehow sensed that cohabitation was inappropriate. The exceptions were Ham, son of Noah, the dog, and the raven.[9] The raven was drawn to the physical more than other animals. He thus saw the world through his own eyes. Should someone else have left their mate alone, he would have attempted to mate with her. Thus, he projected that upon Noah. “Kol haposel bimumo posel - when one sees faults in others, that fault is [almost always] present in he himself,[10]” the Gemara tells us. Thus, the raven saw Noah as a threat.[11]


We must know that what we see affects us. It can drag us up and down. We can become like Avraham and Sara, or we can become, heaven forbid, like other nations who imitate Amalek to this day. We must take care to see good things, and when we see things that can hurt us, even the destruction of those who sin (like the Sotah,) we must know that there is a reason that Hashem had us see it, and that it can affect us badly if we do not respond as the Torah demands.

[1] See Daas Torah to Nitzavim

[2] D’varim 25:18

[3] Bereshis Rabbah 53:8

[4] R. Dovid b. Shmuel Halevi, in his Divrei David to Genesis 18:6

[5] Apiriyon to Bereshis 22:1

[6] Bereshis 22:1

[7] Sanhedrin 108b

[8] See Rashi Bereshis 8:1

[9] Sanhedrin 108b

[10] Kiddushin 70b, Rambam Issurei Biyah 19:17

[11]Gur Aryeh (Maharal) to Bereshis 8:7

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Shabbos All Week

“And Yitzchak brought her into the tent of Sara his mother.”

Bereshis 24:67




“In the tent of Sara, there was a candle that always burnt – from one erev Shabbos, until the next, when Rivka entered that tent, this blessing returned.”[1] When Yitzchak saw this, he was then prepared to marry Rivka.[2] What was this candle all about? Why did it remain lit, and why did it matter?


In a letter to R. Yissachar Tietchell[3], R. Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld wrote that this candle was the Shabbos candle, and it remained lit all week for in Sara’s tent, Shabbos was felt all week. It is customary for women to refrain from drinking the Havdalah wine at the conclusion of Shabbos. R. Sonnenfeld explains that this is due to the power that women have to extend that Shabbos into the weekday, and therefore, they ought to have a little less to do with the Havdalah, for Havdalah emphasizes the separation of Shabbos and weekday! We must discover - what is the nature of this power, and what does it mean that women posses it?


Shammai would live the entire week preparing for the Shabbos, for when he found a nice piece animal, he would purchase it and save it for the Shabbos. He inevitably found a nicer animal, and purchased that one too, and then took the first one and ate it during the week. He would eat the first one, so that the nicer one would be for Shabbos. Thus all of his food during the week was really part of his preparation for the Shabbos.[4] Because Shammai spent his money on the first animal in order to have it for Shabbos, the fact that in the end he would enjoy it during the week did not make it any less for the honor of Shabbos! Shabbos spilt over and colored his entire week.


When we make Kiddush on Friday night, we begin it with the words, “Yom Hashishi, the sixth day.” This is odd, for it is a fragment of a full sentence. In fact, we are meant to begin quietly with the words “Vayihi Erev, Vayihi boker,” “and it was evening and it was morning,” and the we recite “yom Hashishi aloud.” There is a Midrash[5] which tells us that “Yom Hashishi Vayehchulu Hashomayim,” is the source for “tosefes Shabbos.” Tosefes Shabbos is the obligation that we have to add a bit onto the Shabbos of the weekday, and to treat that time as thought it is Shabbos as well. The first letters of each word of “Yom Hashishi Vayehchulu Hashomayim,” are Yod – Hey – Vav - Hey, which spell out the name of Hashem. When we add on the last two words in the Torah about Friday to the first two words of Shabbos, we discover Hashem’s name. Therefore we recite those two words aloud, before reading about the Shabbos at Kiddush. Holiness truly comes when we can attach the secular to the holy, and bring the holy into our mundane lives. It is not enough to live spiritual lives in the synagogue. We must live those principles of Shabbos and spirituality in our ordinary worldly lives. We can learn out to add from the Shabbos to our week when we notice that the name of Hashem appears when we attach those parts of the Torah. So on Friday nights, we emphasize that message by loudly intoning only the fragment of the sentence that will spell out the name of Hashem.[6]


The woman has this special ability to infuse the divine into the worldly aspects of the family life. This world was created with the letter “Hey” while the next was created with the letter “Yod.” There are both letters of Hashem’s name. We are told that man has the letter “Yod” is his name “Ish,” and the woman has the letter “Hey,” in “Isha.” When man and woman come together properly in marriage, the letters join and the bring the divine presence into their home. The man is connected to the letter that created the world to come. His pursuits are related more directly to the spiritual while the woman’s are related to the more secular. But that is all somewhat superficial. It is the job of a woman to elevate the physical elements of life and to help turn them into spiritual things. Based upon the Drashos Haran[7], Rav Yonason David Shlita[8] compares the man/woman relationship to that of the Sanhedrin and King. The Sanhedrin was responsible making scholarly spiritual decisions. Man is charged with learning that Torah, and has more mitzvos to keep. The King carried a Torah around with him at all times.[9] It was his responsibility to build roads, and wage wars. There is no direct reference in to Torah about each road, or decision the King would have to make. It was his job to have imbibed the spirit of the Torah so completely that he would be capable of making those decisions. The Sanhedrin had a very black and white code to consult. The King dealt in all of the gray areas. Man is charged with being the Sanhedrin of his family, and giving the family the benefit of his spiritual achievement. The woman is charged with offering the family the benefit of her ability to engage in the more earthly pursuits, and elevate those to the highest of planes.


Shabbos is holy, but the weekdays are secular. A woman’s job is to take this world  that was created with the letter “Hey,[10]” – her letter[11] - and connect it to the Shabbos, to the spiritual and eternal.[12] [This gives us some incredible insight into the power of the male/female relationship on the Shabbos!] It is thus not suggested for her to drink the wine from the Havdalah, after she never really needs to separate from the Shabbos. Sara’s tent was never missing the Shabbos, but when she died, Avraham and Yitzchak were left without that Shabbos light of Sara’s that managed to burn the entire week. It was only when Yitzchak saw that Rivka could bring that light back into the weekday, that he knew that this was the woman who was to be the mother to all Jews, and who would implant in her daughters and granddaughters that ability to extend the light of Shabbos, from one week to the next.


[1] Rashi Bereshis 24:67 quoting Bereshis Rabbah 60:15, mentions that the dough was blessed, and a cloud hovered above. The Zohar mentions only that the candle remained lit, and we will focus just on that.

[2] Chiddushei HaGriz 24:67

[3] Published in the preface to his work Mishneh Sachir

[4] Beitzah 16a

[5] Bereshis Rabbah 9:14 according to Biur Hagra O.C. 271:10

[6] Rema O.C. 271:10

[7] Beginning of Drush 11

[8] Devek Tov Bayis 6 (a pamphlet of the Torah of R. Yonason David Shlita distributed at the wedding of a daughter of R. Chaim Yitzchak Kaplan Shlita.) See also Pachad Yitzchak - Shavuos 36, and Reshimos Lev Chanukah p. 215.

[9]D’varim 17:19, Sanhedrin 21b

[10] Menachos 29b

[11] Sotah 17a, see Rashi ad loc.

[12] The Sfas Emes (to Vayechi, 5634 s.v MeAsher, and 5653 s.v. BiInyan) sees this idea (of connecting the weekdays to the Shabbos) as what is behind the two loaves of Challah on Shabbos, the Lechem Mishna – one corresponds to the weekdays and one to Shabbos. He bases this upon a cryptic passage in the Zohar. He then extends this to explain the relationship of Yissachar and Zevulun, Yissachar being Shabbos and Zevulun the weekdays.